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Beloved Children

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Parshas Shoftim

You Can Choose Your Students But Not Your Children

And this is the case of the manslayer who shall flee there, that he may live; he who has smitten his neighbor accidentally, whom he has not hated in the past. (DEVARIM 19:4)

Two American Jews who were business partners once complained to Rabbi Michael Ber Weissmandel that their sons were about to marry gentile girls. Although not observant, they were distraught, since they knew that marrying gentiles meant that their sons would be lost to Judaism.

Rabbi Weissmandel asked them, "Where did you educate your sons?"

"We lived in a remote town," answered the two partners, "and there was no shul or Hebrew school, so we had to send them to public school."

Rabbi Weissmandel sighed and said to them, "Your sons learned with gentiles, and now you come to complain that they wish to marry gentile girls? Let me tell you about something that happened after the First World War, and perhaps this story will shed light on your own situation.

"As we know, after the War new boundaries were drawn for many countries. In one Jewish village, the new border separated the village from the Jewish cemetery, so that the village was in Poland, while the cemetery was in Russia. Every time it was necessary to bury someone, they had to ask for a permit to cross the border.

"This caused great inconvenience and delayed each burial for several days until the proper papers could be arranged. The Jews wished to remedy this intolerable situation, and sent a delegation to the regional governor with the request that he exempt the Chevra Kaddisha from all the red tape so that they could bury their dead quickly. The governor listened to their plea and agreed to grant them a permit to cross the border whenever necessary.

"Once the Chevra Kaddisha had this permit, they decided to utilize it for other purposes as well, such as to smuggle goods across the border. They would fill a coffin with smuggled goods, cover it with a tallis, and pretend that they were carrying a corpse. On the other side of the border, they had people waiting to receive the smuggled goods. In this way they developed a successful trade for themselves.

"Once one of the border policemen noticed that at the time the funeral procession was crossing the border with the coffin everyone was laughing. He became suspicious and suspected that perhaps this was not a funeral at all. He approached them and asked them to open the coffin so that he could see the dead body. They immediately refused, claiming that this would be against Jewish law.

"But the policeman would not relent, and demanded that they open the coffin.

"Now the Chevra Kaddisha realized they were in deep trouble, since if they were caught, not only would their lucrative trade come to an end, but they were also in danger of being exiled to Siberia. Knowing that they were trapped, they burst into tears.

"The policeman said to them, 'You fools! NOW you are crying? If you would have cried when you were carrying the coffin, it would not be necessary for you to cry now.'

"The same applies to you," concluded Rabbi Weissmandel."If you would have cried when you sent your sons to learn with gentiles, then you would not have reached this situation, and you would not be crying now." (SHE'AL AVICHA VEYAGEDCHA II p. 247)

Rabbi Weissmandel knew that one can educate a child only when he is still young and willing to listen, but when that opportunity passes and he reaches adulthood, it is too late. We must utilize the early years to train our children to know the difference between truth and falsehood. If we do not keep our promises to them, we will be training them to believe that falsehood is acceptable.

"It is forbidden to sell to the residents of a city of refuge any weapons or hunting equipment," said Rabbi Nechemiah. But the Sages say it is permitted.

Both of the above opinions agree that it is forbidden to lay traps or spread out ropes within the city of refuge, to prevent the avenger of the murder victim from becoming a frequent visitor there.

Rabbi Yitzchak said, "What verse teaches us the above principle? 'And he shall escape to one of these cities and live.'(1) We must do something for him so that he will be able to live."

We have learned: when a student must go into exile [because he has killed someone accidentally], his rabbi must go into exile with him, as it is written, 'And he shall escape to one of these cities and live'(2): Do something for him so that he shall be able to live. Rabbi Zeira said, "From here we can learn that one should not teach a student who is not straightforward."

The Rambam explains why the rabbi is exiled together with his student: The life of those who have wisdom and of those who are seeking wisdom, without the learning of Torah, is tantamount to death. Also, when a rabbi must go into exile, his yeshivah is exiled with him. (MAKOS 10a, RAMBAM HIL. ROTZEACH, CH. 7 hal. 1)

Why do the Sages allow the selling of weapons in the city of refuge, when it is obvious that this gives the avenging relative an excellent opportunity to attain a weapon and kill the accidental murderer? Why do both opinions agree that traps and ropes cannot be used within the city? How will this prevent the avenging relative from being a frequent visitor to the city of refuge? Why must the rabbi of the murderer go into exile with him, when he did nothing wrong to warrant such a punishment? Why did Rabbi Zeira say that one should not teach a student who is not straightforward? Why did the Rambam write that without Torah, those who seek wisdom are as if dead? Why does the yeshivah of a rabbi who goes into exile come along with him?

Insuring Safety in the City of Refuge

"It is forbidden to sell to the residents of a city of refuge any weapons..." But the Sages say it is permitted.
...It is forbidden to lay traps... to prevent the avenger of the murder victim from becoming a frequent visitor there.

The Sages felt that it was too much of a burden for the dwellers of the city of refuge to be denied access to weapons which were sold there. Weapons were a necessity in those days, when cities faced continuous enemy attack, and the hunting of animals provided a source of income. Therefore, even though the avenging relative could take advantage of the situation and buy a weapon in the city of refuge, this did not justify forcing the whole city to suffer. The Sages felt that this was asking too much of the residents.

Both opinions agree that the traps and ropes could not be used within the city, since they would be in public areas where they could be stolen and used to kill. Buying these items would cause suspicion, therefore the avenging relative would prefer to steal them, which he could do as a frequent visitor to the city. The prohibition against the avenging relative being allowed to visit the city frequently would not hinder the dwellers of the city in any way. Normally, if a person plans a murder, he frequents the intended scene of the crime often so as to become acquainted with it, so that he will be more likely to succeed in his mission. But because this was forbidden, his inability to frequent the city of refuge would hinder the avenging relative.

A Rabbi Is Responsible for His Student's Actions

...When a student must go into exile, his rabbi must go into exile with him...
...One should not teach a student who is not straightforward.

The reason the rabbi of the murderer must go into exile with him, even though he himself did nothing wrong, is that although our Sages say it is for the benefit of the murderer, that he not be deprived of his ability to learn Torah and gain eternal life, there seems to be a deeper reason which entails punishment for his rabbi as well. The rabbi should have taught his student that life is precious. If the student had learned that lesson, he would have been extremely careful, and this accidental killing would not have taken place. Since the rabbi is the indirect cause of the student's exile to the city of refuge, it is fitting that he too should be exiled.

Although the murderer's sin was his disregard for the value of life, the Torah was careful to grant him all the things he needs in order to have a full life during his exile, such as his rabbi coming with him to provide him with the sweetness of Torah learning. The explanation for this could be that the Torah wants him to learn how precious life is, and the only way to understand this is for a person to learn Torah. Learning Torah teaches a person how to enjoy life to the fullest. Cutting this person off from Torah would only ensure that he would continue to be careless and would further endanger the lives of others.

When Rabbi Zeira said that a person should not teach a student who is not straightforward he was warning us that although the rabbi might in fact be teaching the proper lessons to his student, the student may not be straightforward enough to accept these lessons, and eventually he might become so reckless with other people's lives that he might kill someone and thereby cause the rabbi to be exiled as well. The rabbi must be able to recognize what sort of student he has and to teach him accordingly.

Torah Is Life

The life of those who have wisdom and of those who are seeking wisdom, without the learning of Torah, is tantamount to death. Also, when a rabbi must go into exile, his yeshivah is exiled with him.

The reason the Rambam writes that without Torah those who seek wisdom are as if dead is that Torah is not a hobby; rather it is a book of instructions informing us how to live life to the full. Those who learn Torah wholeheartedly know that they cannot live without Torah, since it is the foundation of their lives. That is what the Rambam means when he writes that without Torah those who seek wisdom are considered dead. Since the Torah states that a person who must go to the city of refuge is entitled to life, this means that he is entitled to learn Torah, for there is no satisfaction in life without Torah learning.

When a rabbi must go into exile, his yeshivah goes with him since he, too, must live in the city of refuge. Just as students cannot live without learning Torah, so the rabbi cannot exist without his students. Our Sages say that a person learns the most from his students.(3) A person succeeds in Torah only if he puts forth his utmost effort for the Torah's sake. In order for the rabbi to succeed in Torah, he must have his students with him, for they present the challenge he needs to realize his full potential.

Never Promise Your Child What You Cannot Fulfill

Although Rabbi Zeira said that a person should not teach a student who is not straightforward, when it comes to one's children, a person cannot choose, but rather he must teach all his children, and do what he can to train them for life.

A child who seems not to be straightforward has usually become that way because of the education he has received from his parents. If he sees that his parents promise him things, but then do not deliver, then the child learns that what one says need not be the truth. Parents are their children's mentors, and if the mentor does not keep his word, why should the child? Parents are constantly teaching their children by their living example, which is a much greater lesson than any book can offer.

It is never a good idea to promise anything to your child if you are not one hundred percent sure that you can fulfill that promise. This also applies to threats. If you tell your child, for example, that if he does not eat his supper, he will not go out with you, you are putting yourself into a very difficult position. What will you do with him if he does not go out with you? How can you leave him alone? If you want your child to be straightforward and honest, you must excel in that character trait yourself.

Even if you are careful to fulfill your promises, it is not a good idea to attach rewards and punishments to all your commands. The child must do what he is told simply because his father or his mother has said so. When he asks, "Why do I have to do that?" your reply should be, "Because I said so." Do not go into explanations. Otherwise your child will never do anything without an explanation. You must show authority. The child needs to learn that a person must accept commands and fulfill them, even if he does not know the reasoning behind them. This is a basic lesson regarding Torah and mitzvos as well, and it is a good idea for the child to learn it while he is young.

Every Child is Different

Since we must train all our children, we must recognize that every child is different and customize our reactions to each child according to his needs. A rabbi may not have this opportunity with his many students, but as parents we can and must do this.

Some children cling to their parents and tell them everything that happened in school or during the day. Such a child is saying to his parents, through his actions, that he needs a great deal of attention and love. It is as if he is shouting out, "Look at me. Listen to me. I need your attention!" Though he may not be saying this in so many words, his actions are making it very clear.

Another child is content with his games, toys and friends. He keeps himself busy with many activities and is not demanding of his parents. There is no need to shower this child with attention. He has self-confidence that provides him with what he needs and is not dependent on his parents.

We must be attentive to the differences in our children, so that each child can receive from us what they need.

There Are No Bad Children

Some parents think that one of their children is bad. He cannot be controlled at all and causes trouble.

There is no such thing as a bad child. If a child is making trouble, he is telling us through his actions that something is wrong. He does not know how to say it, and may not even be conscious that he has problems. But his behavior is a clear indication that he needs help and guidance.

To find out how to help this child, it is wise to ask advice from an expert in education, or an educational advisor, or a child psychologist. These people are trained to recognize problems and find solutions. It is a mistake to ask friends, since they are not trained, and may give misleading advice.

Just as we do not hesitate to consult a physician when our children complain of pains or fever, so must we not hesitate to consult educational experts when there are problems. There is nothing wrong with seeking professional help. Parents are not expected to know how to react in difficult situations, and by seeking advice they are doing their children the greatest favor.

The Sad Child

A father and mother came to me complaining that their nine-year-old son was totally uncontrollable. When the mother would tell him to put on his pajamas, he would fall asleep in his clothes. When told to eat dinner, he would take a piece of fruit and run out of the house. He was also very sad at home. With friends and at school he was happy, but not at home.

The mother tried in many ways, but she had no control over him. She felt that because he was so sad, he was unable to listen to his mother.

I told the parents that the reason for their son's sadness was that he felt he was controlling his mother rather than she controlling him. This bothered him greatly. A child by nature is happy and has no worries. But he longs to feel that he has strong parents to guide him in life. Without that he feels sad and deprived.

To remedy the situation, first of all the mother must repeat to herself constantly that she is a successful mother and that she does have control. This is to help her regain her self-confidence. Next, she must not relent when the child is disobedient.

The message must be very clear, that there is no possibility that the child can have his way. If he does not put on his pajamas, she must wait with a stern look on her face until he does so. If he does not want to eat dinner, he may fast, but he will not receive any fruit to fill himself.

The mother should tell her child clearly that if he wishes to live in her house he must listen to her and obey her commands. The mother later told me that these words had a very positive effect on her son, and he changed for the better.

The extent to which your child will succeed in life depends up on how well you train him to be obedient, and what kind of example you set.

* Devarim 4:42
** Ibid.
*** Ta'anis 7a

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